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A man in a white chef’s coat stands with his arms crossed, looking directly into the camera.
Chef David Bull
The Crazy Water Hotel

Why James Beard-Nominee David Bull Left Austin for Mineral Wells

He’ll open Second Bar + Kitchen in the wellness capital of Texas on October 27

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Courtney E. Smith is the editor of Eater Dallas. She's a journalist of 20 years who was born and raised in Texas, with bylines in Pitchfork, Wired, Esquire, Yahoo!, Salon, Refinery29, and more. When she's not writing about food, she co-hosts the podcast Songs My Ex Ruined.

When chefs open new locations of existing restaurants or sign on to conceptualize a new spot, they might relocate for a little while — or sign up for an arduous commute back home on weekends. That’s what David Bull, the James Beard nominated chef behind Second Bar + Kitchen in Austin, did when he worked on the Stoneleigh in Dallas, the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, and Hotel Settles in Big Spring, where Midland is the nearest town of note. But this time, Bull has picked up stakes and moved to Mineral Wells, a city about an hour west of Fort Worth.

Bull tells Eater Dallas he’s worked on the renovation of the Crazy Water Hotel, where Second Kitchen’s second location is, and the Baker Hotel and Spa, which will open in 2026, for about a decade already, drawing the designs for the restaurants, coming up with the menus, and spending a lot of time in Mineral Wells. “I swore that I would never move here, and didn’t quite understand how the Baker was going to survive or what the whole, big plan was,” Bull says. It is a grand plan that involved getting Texas to declare Mineral Wells the wellness capital of this state, finding a cadre of financiers to go in on the projects, and getting the city on board.

“It turned out that there was the opportunity to be part of the revitalization of a community,” Bull mentions similarities to when he came into the Driskill Hotel in 1999 and saw the city rally around the project. “I was in Austin when there were only three or four tables at the Barton Creek Farmer’s Market. Now you see ten farmer’s markets, and it’s a day event. That stuff doesn’t just happen overnight,” Bull says. “There are people willing to do the hard work of bringing Mineral Wells back to what it once was, and it came down to wanting to be a part of that.”

A hotel lobby with off-white ceiling, columns wrapped in honey-colored wood, velvet couches, an and old stagecoach in the middle of the room.
A peek into the lobby of the Crazy Water Hotel.
The Crazy Water Hotel

If you don’t already know the backstory here, a quick recap: the city became famous for its water in the late 1800s after it allegedly cured a woman of mental illness — it turned out there was lithium in the water. So Crazy Water, a Texas-based mineral water, was born. The Crazy Water Hotel was built on top of one of those original wells in 1912, was burned down and reopened in 1927. Along with the Baker, which opened the week after the stock market crash in 1929, the famous and infamous flocked to Mineral Wells for the restorative water and wellness treatments — and its stash of illicit booze — including Judy Garland, the Three Stooges, Bonnie and Clyde, and Machine Gun Kelly. Both hotels have been under construction, with the Crazy Water Hotel reopening in 2021.

Bull’s cuisine will push the options in this town full of burger stands, barbecue joints, and taco trucks into new territory. Second Bar + Kitchen is decidedly more sophisticated, both in presentation and the array of ingredients in the dishes on its menu. At a pre-opening dinner, attendees were served blistered shishito peppers with a miso sauce; a brisket and burrata board with a jalapeno and peach jam, brisket marmalade, and grilled bread; the Farm to Market Salad featuring butter lettuce, zucchini, cucumber, corn, basil, and feta prepared in such a way as to render the ingredients recognizable in some forms and not at all in others; a braised beef short rib that was not the simple dish one imagines when it is listed that simply on the menu — this one rested on sweet potato with two preparations, with pickled mustard butter and wilted greens. The descriptions of this food fail to capture the complexity of it and Bull’s drive to play with textures within dishes. It is simply the most elevated cuisine in Mineral Wells.

A salad in a black bowl contains rolled cucumber slices, butter lettuce, liquid zucchini, pieces of corn, a pile of feta.
Farm to Market Salad
Courtney E. Smith
A white plate holds two slices of braised beef short rib on sweet potato with wilted greens and a pickled mustard butter.
Braised beef short rib
Courtney E. Smith

Second Bar and Kitchen has always focused on wellness in its menus, Bull says, by featuring vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options and ingredients sourced from local farmers and ranchers. It fits in nicely with the direction the Crazy Water Hotel wants to go in. The menu features a wellness shot made of fire cider, using a take on apple cider vinegar made at Rocky Hill Farms, blocks away. It includes turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and cayenne, which the bar mixes with fresh pineapple and orange juices, rosemary, agave, and cilantro, served in antique shot glasses. It’s the highlight of the non-alcoholic cocktail list, which Bull describes as not being simply alcohol-free versions of drinks.

The brisket in for that brisket and burrata comes from Smokin’ 3 C’s, a food truck that also services Rickhouse Brewing inside the hotel. “They are an up-and-coming barbecue truck run by a husband and wife team. When I first got here, I told them they have no idea how good their stuff is,” Bull says.

Bull also established relationships with River Valley Farms, a hydroponic grower in nearby Aledo; Veldhuizen, about 55 miles south in Dublin, will supply much of its cheese; and Dryad Grove, just to the east in Weatherford, will provide mushrooms. “Also, the Pie Shop is [owned by] Phyllis down the street. She makes some of the best desserts I’ve ever had,” Bull says. “So instead of having a pastry team, we’re partnering with Phyllis.”

While the restaurant is “a plus” for hotel guests, Bull says it also aims to serve locals and visitors just passing through. “Everybody you talk to is optimistic and excited about the future of this town,” Bull says. “The customers coming in are already our friends.”

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